Tax Ombud Judge Bernard Ngoepe says complaints to Sars have increased. Photo: Dimpho Maja African News Agency (ANA)
JOHANNESBURG – South Africa’s commercial hub of Gauteng filed the most complaints against tax collection agency the SA Revenue Service (Sars) during the 2017/2018 period.

Tax Ombud, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, told Business Report last week that Gauteng had 2 454 complaints, followed by the Western Cape with 529 and KwaZulu-Natal with 375.

Ngoepe said finalised complaints rose to 1 404, while recommendations implemented by Sars were 99.79 percent. He said the increase in complaints was as a result of the institution becoming increasingly more well-known.

Ngoepe said the complaints ranged from delayed tax refunds to wrong allocations and submitted documents that were wrongly captured.

“When you start something new, there are some hopes and expectations and there are also some people who wonder whether it will work.”

The report stated that finalised complaints during the period under review amounted to 1 404, while recommendations implemented by Sars were 99.79 percent.

Ngoepe said when the office was launched in 2013, it embarked on a vigorous awareness campaign to tell people about it as well as its mandate.

He said one of the challenges was that the office was not financially independent.

“Our finances were virtually controlled by Sars, the body we were supposed to be some kind of watchdog over,” he said, noting that some of the challenges had since been resolved.

It was now Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene who decided on the office’s budget and not Sars. The National Treasury approved a R35 million budget for 2017/2018.

Ngoepe said they appreciated the government’s financial restraint as it sought to grow the economy.

“For us, we are reasonably satisfied with the budget we have. It’s a reasonable budget, although it could have been more.”

He said the office needed political support from Nene in order to function optimally, adding that the support should, however, not come with interference.

“It means providing sufficient funds, approving proposed structures of the office, which would be such that the office would be independent of Sars or any other institutions.”

Ngoepe said the importance of the office did not lie with listening to complaints of taxpayers, but in its impartiality in resolving problems raised with Sars.

“With this impartial role the office is then able to boost the morale of the taxpayers, we are able to feel that with the intervention of the Tax Ombud they are being treated fairly,” the judge said.

He said when people felt that they were treated fairly, they would comply and pay as much tax as possible.

“In that sense the Office of the Tax Ombud contributes towards facilitating the collection of tax, which is necessary for the purpose of delivery of services. Without tax being collected nothing can be done,” Ngoepe said.